They said it was about history not hate. They said it was about heritage and pride.

And they took to the steps of the Capitol building in Columbia to make their point.

For more than an hour, members of white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan, held their rally. They waved Confederate flags, gave Nazi salutes and yelled abuse at those who stood to protest.

Not for them the white robes and masks of the past, but T-shirts and camouflage trousers and combat boots.

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They came because of the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the state's grounds. A flag seen by many as a divisive, racist symbol. And a flag waved by Dylann Roof in pictures he posted online before he allegedly went to a church in the state and gunned down nine people because they were black.

One man, who wouldn't give his name, yelled that the removal of a flag was a mistake, saying sales had gone up since it started disappearing from stores and buildings.

He threatened to smash black grave stones if Confederate graves were threatened.

"We will wipe your history from America," he said.

And when asked what the solution was to current racial tension, he said: "A white revolution is the only solution".

Behind him on the steps, there was a man who, an hour or so previously, when by himself, shook hands with black people and told them he understood that they were proud of their race, because he was proud of his.

Bravery 'linked to crowd'

This man told me he "hated nobody". And now he was there, tattoos and bile, yelling the N-word and telling people they looked like monkeys. His bravery was linked to the crowd surrounding him and the police protecting him.


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And there was Brian. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the KKK, telling me he didn't support their message but that he supported their right to say it.

There were fights. An older woman who told me earlier she was a supporter of flying the flag walked away with a bloody nose after a confrontation.

A KKK supporter was hit with a brick as he walked to the protest.

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And there was a scuffle as someone grabbed a Confederate flag and ran off. Police stopped him from setting it alight. So he contented himself with ripping it to shreds.

The KKK was ‎once a powerful angry voice in the South. It was responsible for widespread abuses against the black population.

Its numbers have dropped significantly in recent years. The Southern Poverty Law Center which tracks hate groups in the US, estimates a national membership of no more than four thousand.

Still causing fear

But its initials still cause fear and concern.

In the crowd of those opposing the rally, one man told me he took his position from Martin Luther King. "The only way to beat them is through love. They are miseducated, they are oppressed. And they are angry. We need to talk to them," he said.

Another woman told me she had come to see what she thought was a historic gathering. "I came not to support either side to see for myself. But this is pathetic. We need to work together."

‎There were some who could not believe the Klan and their supporters could hold a rally to say what they said. But the rules are clear. If the time is free and the space is available, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution gives them a voice.

And after an hour, the police, who had marshalled the whole operation with calm and restraint‎, decided the KKK was finished and escorted them from the grounds.

Their angry voices were drowned out by those who believe the KKK should, like the Confederate flag they waved, be consigned to history.

 

 

Source: Al Jazeera